At first the ladies of the company are a little embarrassed by Filostrato’s tale, but by the end, they’re laughing merrily. Emilia, as if rousing herself from a pleasant daydream, begins her story next.
Filostrato seems to like making the ladies uncomfortable. As usual, when the men of the brigata push the bounds of propriety, the women show embarrassment or complain, but because the group represents moderation and balance, their discomfort is always momentary, and the sins and debauchery they describe never go beyond the boundaries of the tales themselves.
A gentleman named Fresco da Celatico has a niece called Cesca. She’s pretty enough, but she has a high opinion of herself and criticizes everything and everyone she encounters rather than thinking of her own defects. She is “disagreeable, petulant, insipid,” impossible to please, and very vain.
The portrait Emilia paints of Cesca is extremely unflattering and draws on misogynistic stereotypes that paint women as vain, shallow, argumentative, and unintelligent. On top of this, Cesca is rude and disrespectful towards her distinguished uncle.
One day, Cesca returns from a walk “fretting and fuming.” When Fresco da Celatico asks her why she’s come home so early, she says that everyone on the street was awful, and since she is “more upset by the sight of horrid people” than anyone else in the world, she came home early so she didn’t have to look at any. Annoyed, Fresco says that if she doesn’t like horrid people, she’d better not look in the mirror, but the empty-headed child doesn’t understand the insult.
In medieval literature and art, mirrors are an important symbol of truth and revelation. Thus, when Fresco suggests she would find a truly disagreeable person in her mirror, he subtly airs his own opinion of her (even though she isn’t clever enough to understand that she has been insulted). And he also suggests that he’s a better observer of her character than she herself is.